Anniversary Reactions to a Traumatic Event
As the anniversary of the 2010 May flood approaches, many survivors may report a return of distressing emotions. The anniversary reaction can bring several days or even weeks of anxiety, fear, nightmares, depression or flashbacks. Not all survivors or witnesses of a traumatic event experience an anniversary reaction, but for those who do, it is important to recognize when the lingering stress has become too disruptive in one’s life. PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder, is an anxiety disorder that some people get after seeing or living through a dangerous event.
Here are four fundamental facts about PTSD.
Fundamental Facts about PTSD
- A Time of Trauma: PTSD occurs when there is exposure to a physically or psychologically traumatic event resulting in an intense emotional response of fear, helplessness or horror. Trauma is a familiar word, but in terms of PTSD it can have a variety of unique and subjective meanings. Examples of traumatic events include: tornadoes, plane crashes, murders, school shootings, car accidents, death of a loved one, assault, abuse or any negative event with significant impact.
- Unwelcome Memories: Individuals with PTSD typically experience persistent recurrence of the traumatic event. The individual experiences intrusive thoughts, mental images and/or disturbing dreams recalling the traumatic event. Some people may experience illusions or flashbacks, as if the traumatic event is reoccurring. Any reminders of the trauma are distressing. Avoiding anything symbolic of the event becomes priority.
- Always Alert: It is common for individuals with PTSD to be alert, yet unable to concentrate. PTSD can cause people to act extremely watchful to protect themselves from danger. Constant worry, anxiety, becoming easily startled and even panic attacks may be common. Falling asleep and staying asleep can be a daily distress. Rage, extreme irritability and intense agitation are also symptoms of PTSD.
- Duration and Disruption: PTSD disrupts the functioning of people affected by it, interfering with their daily tasks and needs. It hinders interest in otherwise pleasurable activities and events. To be diagnosed with PTSD, symptoms must be present for more than one month, and the traumatic event must cause significant clinical distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of life.
Complications can result from untreated PTSD, including: generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, major depression, substance abuse and problems with health, career and relationships. According to research, a person who has been traumatized before is more likely to develop PTSD after a second trauma. People may have posttraumatic stress from a previous event, but they may not be aware of it until after a new trauma occurs.
PTSD and Soldiers
One out of every four American soldiers and veterans of our nation’s modern wars suffered from PTSD. In a recent report from The Center for Military Health Policy Research, titled “Invisible Wounds of War,” early evidence suggests that the psychological toll of these deployments (many involving prolonged exposure to combat-related stress over multiple rotations) may be disproportionately high compared with the physical injuries of combat. Concerns most recently centered on two combat related injuries in particular: posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Many recent reports have referred to these as the signature wounds of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. With increasing concern about the incidence of suicide and suicide attempts among returning veterans, concern about depression is also on the rise.
Dealing with PTSD
- Educate yourself. Learn the symptoms of PTSD, and identify the triggers and warning signs of your particular case. Knowledge and acceptance are the first steps in recovery.
- Reduce stress. Find anxiety reducing techniques such as praying, meditation, exercising, yoga, deep breathing or spending time with close friends and family.
- Manage behaviors. Practice anger control and conflict resolution skills.
- Practice patience. Learn to forgive yourself. Learn new things. Set both short and long term goals. Acknowledge your accomplishments. Count your victories in the battle of PTSD recovery in incremental steps.
- Seek support. Talk with a counselor for direction and support. The goal of treatment is to reduce the emotional and physical symptoms of PTSD, to improve daily functioning and to help individuals cope with the traumatic event that triggered the disorder.
Treatment approaches for severe cases of PTSD
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Workplace Crisis Recovery
Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) is an integrated, comprehensive, multi-component crisis intervention approach to critical incidents. Its purpose is to stabilize and mitigate the acute psychological distress associated with psychological trauma and to prevent or mitigate any potentially adverse posttraumatic affects associated with Acute Stress Disorder, PTSD and other manifestations of acute human crisis.
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